A leading e-cigarette scientist has defended links between the tobacco and vaping industries.
Dr Konstantinos Farsalinos, of the Onassis Cardiac Surgery Centre in Athens, said attacks on research into vaping funded by Big Tobacco were a form of “academic McCarthyism”.
Farsalinos pointed to cases where scientists had come under pressure not to attend conferences funded by the tobacco industry. He made his comments ahead of speaking at a conference taking place in Glasgow which will discuss issues such as the evidence around e-cigarette safety and whether vaping should be banned in public places.
Farsalinos said there were growing misconceptions around the risk of e-cigarettes worldwide, particularly in comparison to smoking.
He said: “We have smokers who believe e-cigarettes are of similar or more harm compared to smoking. Unfortunately these misconceptions are growing – even though there is more and more data and more and more studies.
E-cigarettes are not absolutely safe, and I wouldn’t recommend people to use them – but they are 95% less harmful than smoking.”
Farsalinos also said it was one of the most controversial areas of research he had ever worked in. He pointed to the example of a conference organised by the tobacco industry in Brussels last year, where scientists were sent letters criticising their participation by a US anti-smoking group – even though they had no links to the tobacco industry.
In another recent case, a group of scientists received an apology from The Times after it published an article wrongly saying they were funded by tobacco companies with headlines such as “Tobacco giants fund vaping studies” and “Scientists wooed in charm offensive”.
Farsalinos said it was a kind of “academic McCarthyism”.
He said: “In the case of the conference organised by the tobacco industry – everyone knew that, it was not a secret. I have never been funded by any tobacco company and I have no links with tobacco companies, but I think some of the discussion on who has funded who and what they are saying is misleading.”
The scientist added: "Of course studies which are funded by the tobacco industry, you need to approach with caution, but you can not dismiss some high quality research which is being done just because it is being funded by someone you don’t like."
However a spokeswoman for anti-tobacco organisation ASH Scotland - which has taken the position that vaping is much less harmful than smoking, but not harmless – said the first thing to do when reading any research was to look and see who it was funded by.
She added: “For e-cigarettes it is awkward as there is a mountain of research and the way the two sides of the argument attack each other is by one saying this isn’t valid because it funded by the tobacco industry.
“I think the concern most public health professionals have with the tobacco industry is because they have such a strong history of suppressing information and actively lying.”
The conference on e-cigarettes being held in Glasgow on Thursday is part of series of meetings held by the Global Forum on Nicotine conference, which states it does not receive any sponsorship from manufacturers, distributors or retailers of nicotine products including pharmaceutical, electronic cigarette and tobacco companies.
Professor Neil McKeganey, of the Centre for Substance Use Research, which is hosting the conference, said the meeting would discuss issues such as whether e-cigarettes should be banned in public places.
He said: "If the people who are vaping are trying to stop themselves smoking by vaping, are we not making their attempts to stop smoking less likely to succeed if we have to say you have to stand outside along with the smokers?"